The closures within Watertown-based Bethesda are having an impact on a number of people in the community, among them the family and friends of Dennis Berg, his wife, Cheryl and daughter, Hannah.
“This closure may not mean anything to some of you, but to my wife Cheryl and I it means a lot,” Berg said. “Our daughter Hannah is losing her housing in one of Watertown’s Bethesda Family Adult Homes.”
Hannah is cognitively and physically disabled due to a chromosomal abnormality at birth.
“There will be 90 other individuals with disabilities also losing their housing due to Bethesda leaving Wisconsin,” Berg said. “We were given no real advance notice of this occurring other than a letter two days prior notifying us that we should attend an important Zoom meeting. There will also be many very good employees of Bethesda losing their jobs due to this decision. Some of them have been with Bethesda for many, many years.”
Citing the fact that its revenue streams are drying up due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bethesda announced on Friday it would be closing its group homes, day programs and employment services in Watertown and Wisconsin.
Its corporate office will remain in Watertown, but with staff reductions.
According to Don Klein, senior director of public affairs, COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn have made things much worse for Bethesda.
“Our costs have skyrocketed quickly and revenue coming from many of our services and fundraising has diminished,” he said. “The economic recession is expected to hit state budgets hard, further reducing the already inadequate funding for many of the services we provide, so as a result, we will be closing our group homes, day programs and employment services in Wisconsin.”
Berg said direct support professionals and life coaches from Bethesda have been special people to his family and will be sorely missed.
Klein said Bethesda College and thrift stores are not affected by these decisions, and its new residential community concept — Bethesda Cornerstone Village — will have a presence in Wisconsin.
This bothers Berg and he has been calling for a boycott of the stores.
“I am asking all of you who read this to please boycott all these thrift shops in the state of Wisconsin,” Berg said. “Bethesda corporate wants to funnel all this money from donations from their Wisconsin thrift shops to their group homes located outside the state. There is something wrong with this picture.”
“While our corporate office will remain in Watertown, we have significantly reduced the number of positions there, as well,” Klein said.
He noted Bethesda officials have been working closely with state leaders, in preparation for the transition of people Bethesda supports and have been notifying parents and guardians of plans.
“We will partner every step of the way with the people we support, families and guardians, and care managers to transition care to another provider of their choice,” Klein said. “We will also be supporting our employees who are impacted by this decision. We care very much for those who have given so much in service to people we support, and we are sad that they will be leaving us through no fault of their own.”
Klein called the decisions leading up to the closures difficult. He said about 190 employees across Wisconsin, including Watertown, will lose employment. He noted Bethesda serves people in 13 states, including Wisconsin. Approximately 90 residents will be displaced and about 20 homes in Wisconsin closed. Some residents have been with Bethesda for decades.
He said it the decisions are necessary for Bethesda to thrive in the future and move forward with its vision to be an innovator in its industry.
Others on the Daily Times Facebook page echoed Berg’s sentiments.
One person said, “The ‘old’ Bethesda would never do this. They cared too much about their residents and employees.”
Another said, “It’s disheartening how they are just abandoning their residents and the amazing staff. My son will be heartbroken when I have to share with him that he has to move. We are now left scrambling to find good homes for our loved ones.”